There is a heavy scent in the air, rich and old. It’s the smell of wood fragranced by the dry heat of day, and through the skylights of this building soon to be torn down, the dimming twilight quietly wanders away. From the periphery, a dancer appears, drawn to the singular light source at the end of a long darkened hall. The pull to this luminary place is binding, and imperceptibly we shift elsewhere in these first moments of movement. A feeling of transcendence, something calming and connecting, casts itself down onto this special performance; temporary, never to happen exactly the same way again.
Intricate ideas are at work here, not only in the demanding choreography, but also on a visceral level. Themes are revisited in this second iteration of Rachel Meyer’s Transverse Orientation 2, from the metamorphosis of the moth, to the narrative of instinct. Through the darkness, we are guided again and again back to various points of light, some incredibly radiant, others dim and unsure. With a deep awareness and intent, this performance allows the audience to curiously wander into the complex story that becomes even richer with the special attention and consideration to set design, sound, and lighting. Rachel describes this work as, “[…] a kind of template, that when applied to different spaces and dancers results in a different work.” This extension of a multiple narrative is unbound by any expiration, which enables this performance to shift with time, gradually unrolling, free to change with the future.
There are several remarkable stages of transformation during Transverse Orientation, some that happen at the edge of sight. Inevitably, we cannot see it all, we choose our moments, and spend time where we find meaning. The expression of dance is especially intimate, deeply moving, and intensely meaningful. On a human level, we all connect to this universal physical expression, whether the dancers remind us of our own personal stories and experiences or not, we can all profoundly understand without the use of words.
In this interview with Rachel, she beautifully describes the feeling of dance as listening. It was a remarkable experience to see the capacious ideas of Rachel’s mind physically expressed through the medium of dance, which is now a very special memory in time.
Interview by Ami Sangha
Photos by Jennifer Latour
A big thank you to Rachel Meyer, Stephanie Cyr, Eowynn Enquist, Livona Ellis, Josh Martin and Janna Sailor
Portrait Series: 6 Questions For Rachel Meyer
Ami: I was struck by something I read about the first performance of Transverse Orientation where you explained that there was a mysterious source of guidance. Has this feeling of distant guidance also informed your choreography for Transverse Orientation 2?
Rachel: In travel, Moths find their orientation by keeping a fixed angle on a distant source of light… but it is a fallible system which only works part of the time. Sometimes they find their way, if the light source is sufficiently remote…but sometimes, if the light source is too close, they get stuck: We can all imagine moths stuck flying around and around a light bulb, not making progress. I like the idea that a light in the dark may offer guidance but could equally be a dead end…it’s a beautiful allegory for change.
In reading more about proprioception, I was intrigued by this description I came across, “Proprioception or Kinaesthesia is a sense of self movement and body position. It is sometimes described as a 6th sense.” In your dance practice how would you describe
what it feels like to move with a deep awareness of your own body, and how do those movements affect both you and your audience?
As dancers, we are trained to have a heightened sense of awareness of ourselves, the space, and others around us. I like to describe this feeling as listening. In Transverse Orientation, there are moments where I have purposely choreographed no eye contact to give a greater sense of this “listening” to the dancers. Moths have poor vision when they fly at night. They rely on pheromones of other moths to find each other.
Proprioception in the human body happens when proprioceptors located on the periphery of the body are activated. You have described your choreography as, “multiple trajectories of the narrative occurring simultaneously, at times perceived only in the audiences peripheral vision. These separate worlds are sometimes indifferent to each other, sometimes coexisting, and rarely collide.” How are you able to construct these complicated moments of movement? Does this change the choreography of gesture as the audience may only see these moments briefly or not at all?
I begin by choreographing different sections of the work as separate, almost stand alone pieces. Once I have these pieces I try placing them at different timings alongside each other; overlapping, separate, or interacting with each other. The individual sequences start informing each other and I take their interaction under consideration as I refine each of them separately and later in the process, together. This is my way of creating complexity for the audience, and also breaking down the expectation of most audience members at a performance, of looking at only one event or narrative. It puts the audience into a different frame of mind if many things are happening at the same time…you know if you look at one part of the performance you are likely to miss other parts, and you have to be active in your experience of the work, not passive. The audience becomes engaged in viewing the work, must make decisions.
The device allows me flexibility too, because sometimes I can align the narratives and very selectively, extremely simplify – thus I can place great importance or focus on certain parts of the work.
As a child did you have a strong connection to dance? How did you express yourself in your formative years? Do you think that your life experiences are revealed on some level when you dance?
I have loved movement and music my whole life. Yes, much of what I present on stage comes from what I have experienced and how I imagine the future.
In Transverse Orientation you were involved with all aspects of the performance, from the stage design, lighting, music, costumes, and of course the choreography. How do you dream up these visions of experience for your audience? Are you as deeply involved for Transverse
All of these aspects affect how the audience sees and feels the performance. I need to be deeply involved! For the second run of these shows, the warehouse is different, which has greatly shifted the stage design and feeling of the work…this of course has shifted the choreography and lighting. My dancers are different which has also introduced massive changes to the work, as I try to tailor it to the people I am working with. Finally, I’ve also grown! I am able to see things I could not see in the first run of shows and improve the work, add sophistication and subtlety. I like thinking of transverse orientation as a kind of template, that when applied to different spaces and dancers results in a different work.